June 30, 2017

Service interruption

Due to his annual vacation to The Continent, The Other Front will not be posting for the next few weeks.


June 29, 2017

Or do I need the UN's permission for that, too?

Perfectly reasonable (if you are an incorruptible superman with superior moral judgment and a deep unshakeable commitment to advancing the cause of freedom and human dignity)

[W]e saw two admirable characters taking different sides as if ignoring the UN's pleas was a reasonable option.


June 25, 2017

"Thou art the man."

Loveday appreciates, on its literary merits, this story from 2 Samuel 11 and 12.  Loveday uses the King James text, which he says "deliberately matched style to content, and did not shy away from the heightened language suited to all seriousness, whether sacred or secular."

. . .  

When the passage begins [says Loveday], David has established his rule over both Israel and Judah. He has sent his troops to war, led by his faithful nephew and ‘fixer’ Joab; for unexplained reasons, David remains behind in Jerusalem. 

Chapter 11
2. And it came to pass in an evening-tide, that David arose from off his bed, and walked upon the roof of the king’s house: and from the roof he saw a woman washing herself; and the woman was very beautiful to look upon. 

3. And David sent and enquired after the woman. And one said, Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite? 

4. And David sent messengers, and took her; and she came in unto him, and he lay with her; for she was purified from her uncleanness: and she returned to her house. 

5. And the woman conceived, and sent and told David, and said, I am with child. 

6. And David sent to Joab, saying, Send me Uriah the Hittite. And Joab sent Uriah to David. 

7. And when Uriah was come unto him, David demanded of him how Joab did, and how the people did, and how the war prospered. 

8. And David said to Uriah, Go down to thy house, and wash thy feet. And Uriah departed out of the king’s house, and there followed him a mess of meat from the king. 

9. But Uriah slept at the door of the king’s house with all the servants of his lord, and went not down to his house. 

10. And when they had told David, saying, Uriah went not down unto his house, David said unto Uriah, Camest thou not from thy journey? why then didst thou not go down unto thine house? 

11. And Uriah said unto David, The ark, and Israel, and Judah, abide in tents: and my lord Joab, and the servants of my lord, are encamped in the open fields: shall I then go into mine house, to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife? as thou livest, and as thy soul liveth, I will not do this thing. 

12. And David said to Uriah, Tarry here today also, and tomorrow I will let thee depart. So Uriah abode in Jerusalem that day, and the morrow. 

13. And when David had called him, he did eat and drink before him: and he made him drunk: and at even he went out to lie on his bed with the servants of his lord, but went not down to his house. 

14. And it came to pass in the morning, that David wrote a letter to Joab, and sent it by the hand of Uriah. 

15. And he wrote in the letter, saying, Set ye Uriah in the forefront of the hottest battle, and retire ye from him, that he may be smitten, and die. 

16. And it came to pass, when Joab observed the city, that he assigned Uriah unto a place where he knew that valiant men were. 

17. And the men of the city went out, and fought with Joab: and there fell some of the people of the servants of David; and Uriah the Hittite died also. 

18. Then Joab sent and told David all the things concerning the war; 

19. And charged the messenger, saying, When thou hast made an end of telling the matters of the war unto the king, 

20. And if so be that the king’s wrath arise, and he say unto thee, Wherefore approached ye so nigh unto the city when ye did fight? knew ye not that they would shoot from the wall? 

21. Who smote Abimelech the son of Jerubbesheth? did not a woman cast a piece of a millstone upon him from the wall, that he died in Thebez? why went ye nigh the wall? then say thou, Thy servant Uriah is dead also. 

22. So the messenger went, and came and shewed David all that Joab had sent him for. 

23. And the messenger said unto David, Surely the men prevailed against us, and came out unto us into the field, and we were upon them even unto the entering of the gate. 

24. And the shooters shot from off the wall upon thy servants; and some of the king’s servants be dead, and thy servant Uriah the Hittite is dead also. 

25. Then David said unto the messenger, Thus shalt thou say unto Joab, Let not this thing displease thee, for the sword devoureth one as well as another: make thy battle more strong against the city, and overthrow it: and encourage thou him. 

26. And when the wife of Uriah heard that Uriah her husband was dead, she mourned for her husband. 

27. And when the mourning was past, David sent and fetched her to his house, and she became his wife, and bare him a son. But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord.

Chapter 12 
1. And the Lord sent Nathan unto David. And he came unto him, and said to him, There were two men in one city; the one rich, and the other poor. 

2. The rich man had exceeding many flocks and herds: 

3. But the poor man had nothing, save one little ewe lamb, which he had bought and nourished up: and it grew up together with him, and with his children; it did eat of his own meat, and drank of his own cup, and lay in his bosom, and was unto him as a daughter. 

4. And there came a traveller unto the rich man, and he spared to take of his own flock and of his own herd, to dress for the wayfaring man that was come unto him; but took the poor man’s lamb, and dressed it for the man that was come to him. 

5. And David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man; and he said to Nathan, As the Lord liveth, the man that hath done this thing shall surely die; 

6. And he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity. 

7. And Nathan said to David, Thou art the man.

I don't know exactly what spiritual lesson to take from this story.  I do know, however, that the first time I am wronged on Monday I am going to say "oh, now the Uriah the Hittite treatment, eh?" or "you are treating me like Uriah the Hittite!" or "what am I?  Uriah the Hittite?!"... I'm still working on exactly how I'll phrase it.  But this I vow:  Uriah the Hittite will get his solid innings come Monday.

June 24, 2017

You say that like it's a bad thing

Imagine Dragons tend to wear matching outfits and shout choruses in malevolent unison and whack giant drums, like a musclebound Jock Jams version of Arcade Fire.


Now we see the violence inherent in the system

 Prophecy for Blake, however, was not a prediction of the end of the world, but telling the truth as best a person can about what he or she sees, fortified by insight and an "honest persuasion" that with personal struggle, things could be improved. A human being observes, is indignant and speaks out: it's a basic political maxim which is necessary for any age. Blake wanted to stir people from their intellectual slumbers, and the daily grind of their toil, to see that they were captivated in the grip of a culture which kept them thinking in ways which served the interests of the powerful.


An interesting book

The English author Simon Loveday died in February, too young; but not before he had completed a ten-year project, distilled it down to 320 clear and interesting pages, and found a publisher for it.  The result, The Bible for Grown-Ups (link) is a succinct synthesis of scholarly work on the Bible.  It has pissed off everyone in sight, and it's great.

In response to a vile review in The Spectator, Loveday's friend Matthew Parris explains the book's intent as follows (the whole essay is very much worth a look):
Written neither from the viewpoint of belief or unbelief, he aims to explain what nobody ever tried to explain to me in my own religious education: how this vast collection of stories, poetry, historical records, reports, genealogical tables, inventories, testaments and legends ever got stapled together — as it were — into the thing we call the Bible. 
Who wrote the various bits, and why? What other aims might they have had, beyond the composition of a sacrament to their God? How did this all end up between two covers? How were its contents chosen? 
How much is meant to be a factual report, and how much allegorical? How much is included just because it is beautiful, uplifting, solemn? Which of its famous stories occur in other cultures, religions, or literatures?

The Bible for Grown-Ups maps the various books of the Bible to historical events, from the rise of the Kingdom of Israel in Judea and Samaria (starting somewhere between 928-722 BC), to the Fall of Jerusalem and destruction of the Second Temple in 70 AD, and on to the adventures of the Gentiles and their new religion thereafter.  Loveday sheds fresh light (for me) on the significance of the Apostle Paul, and his conflicts with the early Christians in Jerusalem.  He also explains why the original Jews for Jesus did not find success:
What is crucial is that by 60 AD, there were more Christians outside Palestine than in Palestine – and even more strikingly, more Gentile Christians than Jewish Christians. Why does this matter? Well, when the Romans responded to the Jewish bid for independence by flattening the Temple and the city of Jerusalem in 70 AD, they effectively wiped out the community of Jewish Christians centred on the Temple. Only the converts outside Palestine – overwhelmingly Gentile – were left.

After that, Paul's mission to the Gentiles was all that remained of Christianity.  That project had its ups and downs, but he did ultimately find an audience.

Loveday also does splendid service in selecting good scholarship that brings fresh light to the origin of the texts.  I did not know, for example, that we may have a better grip on who pulled together the Pentateuch than the Gospels.  This is a bit of a challenge, since Christianity - the religion of 1/3 of the world's population - depends very heavily on these texts.  In a typically fluent passage, Loveday walks us through the issues:
We know extraordinarily little about the four evangelists, the people who wrote the first surviving accounts of Jesus. We do not know their names: the original Gospels do not bear an author’s name, andMatthew, Mark, Luke, and John are all merely guesses added 50 years or more after the books were first written and circulated. We do not know where they lived (though it was almost certainly outside Judea). We do not know their sex: it is unlikely that any was a woman, but women do feature largely in all four Gospels, notably in Luke. We do not even know for sure whether the writers were Jews or Gentiles. Matthew anchors his events strongly in the Old Testament, yet it is he who makes the Jewish crowd cry, ‘His blood be upon us’ before the crucifixion; Luke seems to have book-knowledge of the Jewish faith but little practical knowledge of its particular rituals and beliefs (see New Oxford Annotated Bible, p. 1827); and John, who constantly speaks of ‘the Jews’ festivals’, gives the impression that the writer is no more Jewish than his audience.
All four Gospels circulated in numerous versions from the earliest times and editors and copyists felt no embarrassment about amending the version they had inherited. The texts we now use, initially written between about 70 and 110 AD, were all changed, updated, added to, revised, and rewritten – not to mention copied, with all the errors that introduces – over the next century as theological opinions changed. The result is that we have no certainty as to what was the original version of our modern Gospels: textual criticism, in the old-fashioned sense of establishing an authoritative version, is highly skilled, but also extremely difficult. Any new edition of the New Testament bristles with footnotes indicating the choices that have been made between competing alternatives. As one recent writer reminds us, ‘so much does the interpretation and evaluation of the manuscript evidence progress, that a new New Testament will be issued every ten or twenty years for the foreseeable future’.

Loveday does not draw the comparison, but Adam Nicolson (Why Homer Matters) encounters similar problems in the Greek epics.  Somewhere back there, someone who knew the story got together with someone who could write.  But the first thing they wrote down wasn't the "true" story, and it wasn't the final version, either.  In the case of the Bible, it is the collective testament of a community of believers, before that community had come together, organized itself into formal institutions, and received state sponsorship.

(Speaking of state sponsorship, one can only admire this peroration - if peroration is the word I want - from the Edict of Thessalonica:  "We authorize the followers of this law to assume the title of Catholic Christians; but as for the others, since, in our judgment they are foolish madmen, we decree that they shall be branded with the ignominious name of heretics, and shall not presume to give to their conventicles the name of churches. They will suffer in the first place the chastisement of the divine condemnation and in the second the punishment of our authority which in accordance with the will of Heaven we shall decide to inflict."  All clear?)

The authorial problems make the testimony of contemporary observers very helpful, and there are a few.  We learn enough from Loveday to appreciate the melancholy life of Josephus.  He was Benedict Arnold to the Judeans, but also, through The Jewish War, Jewish Antiquities, and Against Apion, our only independent source on many biblical matters.  Loveday wonders who he was writing for.  After the Fall of Jerusalem, there weren't many literate Jews left around, and what Roman would want to bother with such a detailed history of just one of many subject peoples?

I must also say something about Loveday's superb prose.  I initially imagined him a Strunk and White disciple because of his easy fluency and the similarity of the text to everyday speech.  But Loveday had no aversion to complex sentence structures.  The opening paragraph of his chapter on New Testament morality breaks various rules, but is also clear and useful:
It is very common to hear people speak of ‘Christian values’, ‘Christian ethics’, or – on the other side of the coin – ‘un-Christian behaviour’. And although we often speak of Judaeo-Christian values and traditions as though they were consistent and uniform, not surprisingly it is the New Testament rather than the Old that is seen not only as the core element, but often as superseding the Old, with a contrast between the supposedly rule-governed and vengeful religion of the Old Testament, and the forgiving spirit of the New Testament where what matters is the inner state, not the outer observance.

The whole book is like this.  It bears the marks of something that has been, like its subject, under heavy revision for quite some time.  It also picks up Paul's mission, in a way hinted at by Parris in the conclusion of his defense in The Spectator:
Howse (I think) thinks Bible study is like that: dead without the Living God and the Living Christ. If that’s right then there’s no point exploring belief unless we already believe. 
Loveday disagrees, finding the Bible moving, instructive and beautiful even when its central figure is pixellated out. Though I am an atheist, this book has sent me back to the Bible. Make up your own mind, but take it from me: Loveday writes with a clarity that is little short of gripping. He will engage you in a way a sneering reviewer can only envy.

We know with certainty that religious faith varies in all populations and in all societies, and that this variation can be a cause of great stress and suffering.  By writing a book that makes these influential texts more accessible to unbelievers and critically-minded believers alike, Loveday did a great service and left this world a better place.  Well done.

June 22, 2017

Ruminating on the Mittelage and the Sonderweg

Here are some excerpts from the thoughtful and alarmingly coherent Foreign Affairs article, "Keine Atombombe, Bitte" by Ulrich Kühn and Tristan Volpe, to which I have added some pictures and illustrative videos.

[E]very time Germany takes the lead, its neighbors recall history and grow nervous about German hegemony over Europe.

Such fears go back as least as far as the creation of the modern German state in 1871.  From then until the country’s partition after World War II, European leaders confronted “the German question,” a simple but unsolvable dilemma.  Germany’s size meant that no single European country could ever balance its economic or military power.  Yet Germany was never powerful enough to rule over Europe alone.  Part of the problem stemmed from the country’s so-called Mittelage, its location at the center of Europe, surrounded by potentially hostile coalitions.  Germany responded to external threats by pursuing what historians have called its Sonderweg, or “special path,” a term used to describe the country’s affinity for authoritarian rule and attempts to impose that rule throughout Europe.  Whenever it did that, the resulting wars devastated the continent...

West Germany could not dominate Europe during the Cold War since the struggle between the East and the West subsumed European rivalries. And after reunification, in 1990, the institutional bonds of the EU and NATO prevented the German question from recurring…

This halcyon era for German ended abruptly in 2009. The Great Recession and the subsequent EU debt crisis led many EU countries to demand German leadership. But when Germany imposed its solutions…it triggered accusations of rising German hegemony…

Against this backdrop, Trump’s election heightened the tensions among competing factors: the need for German leadership, the limits of German power, and Europe’s intolerance of German dominance…by declaring NATO “obsolete,” Trump undermined the system that has kept Europe safe and Germany restrained for over half a century.

But worst of all, by appearing to cozy up to Putin, Trump put Germany in a new Mittelage – this time between the White House and the Kremlin…

Should Europe find itself caught between a hostile Russia and an indifferent United States, Berlin would feel pressure to defend Europe militarily rather than just politically. But then it would face the problem of how to guarantee European security without reviving fears of German hegemony. And if Germany boosted its military power without integrating it into the European project, that might well lead to German isolation and the breakup of the EU.

Nuclear weapons seem to offer Germany a way out of the impasse.

I don't see any holes in this logic.  The authors go on to to argue energetically that  Germany should not do this, that there would be tremendous problems and complications from undertaking such a course, that Germany should try everything and anything else.

But, given stated U.S. and UK policy - the casual renunciation of close agreements held for generations - I don't see what choice the Germans have.  Comprehensive remilitarization at a minimum (also occurring in Japan), and probably some nuclearization as well (maybe take some cues from the Israelis?).

In any case, Angela sees it clearly:  they can't count on anyone putting their life on the line for Germany now, except Germans.  No point pretending otherwise.

True story

An old guy and some teenagers were joking around recently, and made up a game using the names of NBA players in the most suggestive way possible, as in the "If You Know What I Mean" game on  Whose Line is it Anyway.
- Player #1 said:  She could Harden my James, if you know what I mean. 
- Player #2 said:  I'd let her Pau my Gasol, if you know what I'm talkin' about. 
- Player #3 said:  I'd Kristaps her Porzingis, if you know what I mean.

And that was the end of that.

June 21, 2017

I got nothin', here's Norm

June 17, 2017

The latest from the RNC

Weller and Lithgow discuss the movie here.

June 16, 2017

Put it on their tombstone

That’s exactly how I looked at the whole series, too: like a pickup game. The type of players that you would play pickup with, like, it felt like they were all on the court. Like you get the big, strong fast bully who just runs to the rim like LeBron James. You get the dude that’s gonna dribble the whole possession and look sweet while doing it in Kyrie Irving. Then you get the big white guy who can rebound and shoot 3s: Kevin Love. It feels like it was a team created at 24 Hour Fitness. That’s how I was looking at it.  

- Kevin Durant


That is the correct response

Durant:  And then out of nowhere you see Bill Russell walking up on the podium. I’m like, “That’s a legend.”

Simmons: What’d he say to you?

Durant: He was like, “Oh, you’re a pretty good player, huh?” And I was like, “If you say so.”


June 15, 2017


[UPDATE:  FiveThirtyEight does this properly here.]

As the players slip into their limos and run through their voicemails, let me make one or two observations on the greatest basketball team that ever played.  Kyle Wagner at FiveThirtyEight believes the Warriors defied basketball logic, and won by flouting sensible data-driven rules like "get to the free throw line as much as you can" and "never shoot deep twos."

Well, maybe.  It was tough to watch things like this - a play in which the Warriors make eight passes to set up Draymond for a three - and believe you were watching optimal practice.  (If Livingston hadn't restored order they might still be out there.)

But I would argue that the Warriors actually won because they did three things very well:

1)  Shoot really well and make the other team shoot a lot less well.  Here is a chart of the difference, for each playoff team, between its effective shooting percentage and its opponents' effective shooting percentage.  Spot the really good team:

2)  When you have the ball, play as a team, move the ball around, make the opposing defense work.  Here is a chart of playoff teams' assists per made field goal (and hats off to madman Brad Stevens who had the Celtics playing so well):

3)  Disrupt the other team's offense with steals and blocks.  Remember, this team was supposed to be soft, didn't have good rim protection, etc.  Playoff steals + blocks per game:

Amazing team.

June 13, 2017

Let the healing begin

June 12, 2017

An open letter to the Golden State Warriors


Put the motherfucking box into the motherfucking hole.

Yours etc.,
The Other Front

June 09, 2017

You know you're in the right forum when...

...participants are doing back-of-the-envelope math to determine whether dropping a frost giant from an airship will lighten it sufficiently to gain meaningful altitude (conclusion:  yes, probably).


June 07, 2017

Warriors recap

June 05, 2017

Meanwhile over at OOTS


(Fourteen years ago he drew like this... reminds me of the evolution of Trudeau.)

June 04, 2017

Stealth dunker


June 03, 2017

Drezner reflects

How bad is this situation? I look at Trump, at McMaster, at Tillerson, and conclude, “Yeah, I could do better.”

I cannot stress enough how much I should not be thinking this. I am an international relations professor: The biggest deliverables I’ve ever managed is the occasional conference and handing my grades in on time. In the past, whenever the prospect of a policy position has come up, I start getting the hives because of the myriad ways I know how to screw things up. I know my skill set, and am rather dubious that ably managing the foreign policy process is part of it.

All that said, do I think I could run American foreign policy better than the current team? Yes. Heck, I could be on Twitter all day and only pay partial attention to briefings and still do a better job than the current clown show.


Gregg signs off


It's horrible, it's contemptible, it's...not half bad...!

Terry Crews modern furniture collection.


Peculiarities of Plutocracy

Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg has promised to provide up to $15 million in funding that he says the United Nations will lose because of President Trump’s decision to pull out from the landmark Paris climate deal.


And Now, Hijacking Eisengeiste for an Ad for Rare Beach Property in Homer, Alaska

Lots more information at GoldenCrownedHomer.blogspot.com
Sale necessitated by the class paradox of art making. Edit: Link fixed!

Also the rent is too damn high.

June 02, 2017

Not Wasted Time

What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.

"Four Quartets" discussed on In Our Time.  (link)

The original work (read by the author) is here, text here.

Very interesting piece

Once dubbed "Milwaukee's angriest young negro" by the local paper, he's now a 69-year-old grandfather and live event D.J.

The scowl has been replaced by an easy smile. The anger remains.

"Remember him?" I ask, handing him a photo of Grandpa.

"Oh, yeah," he says without a second of hesitation. "Asshole. He was a real asshole. And the Tactical Squad was assholes incorporated."

. . . 

"I can show you, by every objective metric, verified by outside researchers, that…there have been declines in the uses of force by the police," Flynn says.

"Every year for nine years, there have been declines in the number of citizen complaints made against the police for upsetting behavior. It doesn't matter. If I have one controversial shooting, it can blow up nine years of restraints in the use of force, because the power of the story takes on its own reality. It is a rallying cry."